Discover more from Other Feminisms
Responding to Reproductive Asymmetry
Our society demands women "catch up" to men's rootlessness
Because of Easter this week, I’ll be taking Thursday and Monday off. Other Feminisms will resume posts on April 8th with a roundup of your thoughts on whether we make an idol of marriage.
Last weekend, I tuned into FCLNY’s symposium on contemporary feminism (appropriately enough for the topic, I listened from the floor as my fourteen month old daughter piled toys on my head). The conference brought together Robin L. West, Eva Feder Kittay, Erika Bachiochi, and Elizabeth Schiltz for a discussion, full of firm and fruitful disagreement.
Erika, the author of the forthcoming The Rights of Women, began her talk with a powerful statement about how her feminism is a response to asymmetries between men and women. She’s given me permission to excerpt her remarks below. (The emphasis at the end is mine.)
Robin West has expressed really powerfully how constitutionalizing abortion rights has shifted our focus—both legally and culturally—away from addressing the social and sexual imbalances that result in unwanted pregnancies to managing the unwanted pregnancy itself. She writes: “Roe [v Wade] legitimates both unwanted sex and the hierarchies of power that generate it.” I fundamentally agree with this critique but want to take it a step further. I want to suggest that the putative right to abortion not only legitimates but exacerbates the reproductive and social imbalances or asymmetries between men and women—and I think this is especially true for women who are poor.
[T]he most basic and consequential asymmetry between men and women is that when they engage in sexual intercourse, it is women, and not men, who may end up pregnant. A man can just walk away from an unintentional pregnancy and blithely return to the course of his life, but a now-pregnant woman, should she wish to be equally free of the deeply unequal consequence of their union, will need to engage in a life-destroying act. […]
Clearly justice calls for a societal response to reproductive asymmetry. Indeed, I think recognizing this is perhaps what makes one a feminist.
The divide among modern feminisms is about what the societal response to reproductive asymmetry should be.
Is the goal to help women “catch up” to men’s freedom to walk away? That’s the logic of abortion, artificial wombs, the promotion of casual sex.
Or is the goal to make room for women as they are, and even to help men “catch up” to the kind of responsibility that women shoulder unchosen?
I’m in the latter camp, thinking men and women are both ill-served by a culture that expects us to be rootless widgets, able to walk away from anything that complicates our availability to an employer.
Women find our culture an impossible fit, but just because men can contort themselves to fit into an inhumane economy doesn’t mean they’re well-served by those demands.